Popular culture might be high on the nineties now as a ubiquitous trend, but one of its era-defining beauty products born 25 years ago has stayed at the top of its game: CK One, Calvin Klein’s iconic unisex fragrance. While on paper it reads like an olfactory overdose (citrus-based with top notes of pineapple, mandarin orange, bergamot, cardamom, lemon and papaya), its blend has strongly courted mass appeal since its inception: not just because of its scent alone, but also because of its all gender allure. CK One was one of the first beauty products openly marketed as unisex: for a young, gender fluid customer as well as for those who identify as male or female. Quite simply, it was—and still is—for everyone, and its messaging reflected that democratisation: “One for all.”
Today, CK One’s packaging remains intentionally pared down, including its clean, minimal sans serif font used for the logo and the various versions of the fragrance since its initial launch. CK One’s bottle and box do not deviate from form: its frosted silhouette capped with a silver twist-off top both lack any male/female nuances. The same could be said about its essence: CK One doesn’t venture too fruity nor sweet, and it doesn’t exude overpowering masculine wood ingredients. Instead, its mix encapsulates an equal combination of floral and musk, and its creators, Alberto Morillas and Henry Fremons, striking the right balance of notes.
“When CK One originally launched in 1994, it helped redefine the boundaries of the modern fragrance because it blurred societal, gender boundaries and offered a freedom from convention and the status quo, a breaking of rules,” said Simona Cattaneo, Chief Marketing Officer, Coty Luxury, the beauty company that owns Calvin Klein fragrances, in a statement last year.
But the beauty masterminds at Calvin Klein didn’t let the fragrance just speak for itself. It needed an impactful visual campaign that would go straight to the hearts of a youthful Gen X in the 90s, its original target audience. And since Calvin Klein as a brand is no stranger to sparking controversy— think the 1980s jeans commercials with a teenage Brooke Shields purring “nothing gets between me and my Calvins” or the Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss topless underwear images in 1992—the CK One print and television ads attracted enormous attention and seduced everyone. At its peak over 20 years ago, 20 bottles were sold per minute (now it’s 15 according to Cattaneo), and even if Gen X didn’t buy the fragrance, it certainly “bought” the messaging. CK One attempted to get “Eau de whatever” in a bottle, and at least from a monetary and creative standpoint, it worked.
Sharing his concept for the CK One campaign, shot by Steven Meisel, Calvin Klein said it was rooted in the New York arts community. “The initial vision was inspired by 1969 photography by Dick [Richard] Avedon, Andy Warhol and members of the Factory,” he says. “I wanted to capture a liberal and rebellious attitude, featuring unique people, for our anti-perfume. I knew Steven could do that.”
This product might be purchased at UNI Cosmetics.